Reinvention and resilence

“Get your ducks in a row,” the polished silver haired woman seated before me advised.

A few months after my husband Richard passed away from dementia, and a year after my Mom did the same, I thought I better see a grief counselor.

“Isn’t that what you’re supposed to do?” I’d asked myself one night in the mirror.

Previously I’d attended a group session for family members of those who’d passed while in hospice, but I left feeling worse then when I went in.

I no longer needed to share my tears and grief over Mom and Richard, but instead wanted to move on with my life. After a decade of caregiving responsibilities related to memory loss for both of my parents and my spouse, I was ready.

Yet I was still mourning what I saw as the loss of ten years of my life.

I felt I’d gone from middle aged to old with the snap of an arthritic finger.

So as I sat with this wise woman before me for my two sessions, I took her advice to heart.

I knew I wasn’t getting any younger, but getting my affairs in order so I could fully enjoy the rest of my days made good sense.

As I sat down by the lake this morning watching sailboats and the family of happy ducks before me, I reflected on the changes I’ve made in the last eight months.

I’ve swapped both houses and communities.

I retired early from my corporate career, and I’m now working in the non profit sector with children.

And I believe I am at peace.

Sharing a muffin with the ducks, I thought too of a former co-worker from my corporate days who experienced rough patches in her own life. She is now an accomplished and very talented poet.

I believe she’s very content and proud of a new book she just published that I finished earlier this morning.

She should be.

And I thought again of contentment as I greeted another former co-employee later at the farmers’ market, a few blocks up from the the lake.

This bright fellow’s become a farmer.

It was an unplanned lifestyle change, starkly different from his corporate life in the city, but it seems to agree with him.

Buying a bunch of red radishes from my friend, my eye caught a basket of colorful notecards with photos he’d taken on his beautiful farm.

An expression of pride immediately spread across his face as I selected the shot of a cheerful and smiling pig to send to an ailing friend.

“You know, these aren’t at all easy to capture on a pig’s face,” he told me, smiling wide as well.

After I left I was thinking how different ships come in during the course of our lives as we venture to different ports of call.

And we always encounter storms along the way.

But in the end, perhaps what provides us peaceful passage may just be those very smiles we give and receive.

Moving 2015: The Epilogue

I was thinking yesterday, moving out of your home can be like a root canal gone bad.

The pain seems to go on forever.

My back was finally complaining this week after 23 days of urban camping.

A.K.A., sleeping on the floor because my bed and the rest of the furniture have been in storage.

And my cold fingers and ears chimed in as the winter gear has been resting along side it.

I’ve learned coordinating with multiple moving partners can cause a major relapse on bad habits like biting your nails and avoiding reality.

At least it has for me.

And repeated phone calls to straighten out double billings in wrong names and wrong languages haven’t helped any.

Yet with the first frost coming I had to at least try and make those calls again to get my belongings back this week.

But all now seemed aligned, and I had my delivery perfectly scheduled for yesterday morning when I’d have a few hours off from work.

Or at least thought all was perfect until I discovered my work schedule had changed.

So I called in my daughter Nicole from the field to pinch hit.

Knowing I’d be unreachable at work, I left her my cell phone so she could triage the inevitable confusion and emergency issues with my mover and storage folks.

I kept biting my long nails shorter all morning, wondering how it was going.

Finally, I was free to call Nicole from a break room phone right before noon.

There was no  answer.

Trying again and again, I reached her on the fifth attempt as she pulled into a gas station on her way home.

“All is well,” Nicole proclaimed.

But I remained skeptical.

There just had to be a snag some where.

Isn’t there always one?

Walking gingerly into my kitchen after work, I first picked up my cell phone on the counter to check for my missed calls.

And I found some.

In fact, a lot of them.

There were multiple missed calls from the same number but no voice mail.

“Now what?” I mumbled.

Problems with the credit card for the mover?

Or is it the gas company again, I wondered.

Frustrated, I glanced up as I entered a very peaceful living room on the way to the back bedroom.

I stopped in my tracks.

There really was furniture, including a bed, off in the distance.

My daughter had even decorated the place.

And she did so beautifully.

I saw my terrier, Tuck, back napping in his favorite spot on the black sofa.

And my beloved cozy quilt, nestled next to my old reading chair.

I took a long deep breath, then looked again at the phone in my hand, studying the mysterious number for those missed calls.

And I laughed, finally recognizing the number.

“Hey, Tuck,” I said. “That was just crazy me making all those calls from work to my own cell phone.

At that point, I dove into my bed for a very long nap.

And so did Tuck, right at the foot of it, immediately snoring away like always.

It seems we are finally at home.

And as for that pain, the first nap in my own bed was just the perfect Novocain.

Change is in the air

September is a month of much change.

Stressful ones apparently.

In fact, four of my current pick hits are showing on a list of life’s top ten stressors.

“Ah, bring it on,” I said to the dogs early this morning.

But an hour later, the pen I’d been using for all those related to do lists had run dry.

And it seemed I had as well.

I drove into town to find some greatly needed lake therapy.

And I found it there on the beach as soon as I overheard a wise man speak my favorite words, “It’s all good”.

I smiled, knowing he was right.

I moved to the breezy dock and stood for a while watching the early morning sailboat regatta with my cup of coffee.

“Breathe, just breathe,” I sang softly to myself in my best Kelly Clarkson voice.

And I did, taking in as much crisp fall air as my lungs would absorb.

It was just the high octane fuel I needed to sail back home and start cleaning out my basement as part of a downsizing effort.

I discovered once there it actually can be “all good”, even below ground.

And surely will be, when the tough task’s completed.

Oh, what a glorious gift change really is.

Moving Lesson: 3

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I’m really working hard at making my downsizing adventure exciting.

Or at least fun.

And I’m almost there. (At least I think I am?)

In fact, I discovered 10 new tips this week that gave me an adrenalin rush while navigating my own jungle of closets and cupboards:

1. Bubble wrap is better than the finest French champagne. You’ll still have bubbles to pop and your precious cargo will feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Oooh la la!
2. Never back your car into the cars of move volunteers. Beside the added body shop expenses, they won’t come back unless bribed with double doses of anchovy pizza.
3. Find yourself a BFF at the donation drive up. Brian’s my buddy at the local Goodwill. I get a receipt, pep talk, and a smile every time I roll in.
4. Next, find yourself a guardian angel at the Best Buy. I’ve found one in George. He’s making sure all those dead soldiers under my basement stairs go to their peaceful, final resting place. So long you old Dora the Explorer stickered TV sets and Back Street Boy blaring boom boxes. RIP!
5. Do not pack your cell phones into move boxes. Otherwise you’ll be forever calling yourself to figure out which boxes to reopen.
6. Also, don’t pack away your Ben Gay, heating pad, and chocolate too soon. And once you do, make sure and label that box, “Open Me First!” You’re going to need it.
7. Smile sweetly and bat your eye lashes with your grocery and liquor store clerks when begging for free boxes. I gather more of them that way along with extra sympathy and smiles in return.
8. Remember purging is good for the soul. And also good for others. I’m packing a set of dishes this morning for someone who has none. I’m happy I can help out. What a gift that is for me.
9. Gratitude really is the key. Be thankful you don’t have to move every year. And if you do, you have my sincere sympathy and I’ll regift you all my leftover packing tape.
10. Keep your sense of humor. It’s like high octane fuel.

In summary, I’ll end this Lesson 3 with a little move ‘self talk’ I gave myself and the dogs this morning.

‘This too will pass’.

Though that reminds me, I’ve got 6 more empty boxes and hungry dogs calling my name right now.

And it seems my ringing cell phone is missing once again.

Birds and their houses

The sparrows out my window this morning were up early, and they were busy.

With beaks full of sticks and straw, they carefully wove their new found threads into a perfect nest in my blue birdhouse.

Or maybe I should say ‘their’ birdhouse.

I thought I’d should get busy as well, and take a few steps today towards downsizing and finding that perfect place to live.

I drove into the city to look at an older, but efficient 1 bedroom home in a neighborhood I like. It looks like a dream on Google.

Convenient to a co-op, yoga studio, and Chinese food.

What more could I ask for in terms of walkability?

The realtor was even having an Open House so I could get inside.

I found the address, parked my car, and slowly walked up the sidewalk.

The first thing I noticed, the house is twenty steps from a busy high school.

And it looks like a distant cousin of the house I saw online.

Maybe even a third cousin, twice removed, with its crumbling foundation and too much eye shadow.

I knock on the door.

No answer.

It seems the realtor didn’t ‘show’ for the showing.

But no great loss.

I decide to look at another place closer to where I live now, and a little cheaper.

It’s another one bedroom with a front porch, sunroom, and the promise of a private, fenced back yard.

Great for the dogs and me, I’m hoping.

On line it looks like it has a solid stucco exterior, painted the same blue as that birdhouse out my window.

And I soon realize it’s just around the corner from a 144 acre nature preserve near the care facility where my husband lived in his final months.

I’d forgotten to jot down the exact house number, but easily spot the sparkling blue stucco in the sunlight.

As I drive up, I instantly fall in love with the front porch that’s begging me to come on in and grab a rocker.

In fact, the whole house and yard exceed my expectation as I climb out of the car.

I’m ridiculously head over heels in love!

That is, until I’m jilted.

I mean jolted by a brand new “SOLD” sign.

Dejected, I return home and soothe my disappointment with a cup of tea.

I decide to carry it over to check in on my new neighbors in the blue birdhouse.

I find the female sparrow is now resting comfortably on her nest.

And her male companion soon brings a big, juicy worm for them to share.

He’s so much smarter than me.

He remembered the early bird always does catch the worm.

As soon as I find my pen, this old bird’s going to write that down so she doesn’t forget next weekend.

Footprints in the snow

I’ve been reading a lot.

And thinking too much.

Probably not too surprising as I’ve entered the second act of my life’s play.

A milestone birthday along with a major life change always kickstarts some serious self reflection.

And so will taking a life expectancy quiz, where I’m gently reminded that I have a lot more miles behind me then in front of me.

But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Instead more like a coaching session to convince me to pick up the pace.

And I’m excited.

In the last year, I’ve discovered in many ways I’m moving back to that girl I once was (except for some graying hair and those wrinkles of wisdom).

What I’m talking about here is jogging back towards my passions.

Writing, drawing, photography, the outdoors.

Those passions from my twenties that rarely were penciled in with work and family responsibilities.

Then finally growing dormant once the cobwebs of family illnesses covered all.

But it doesn’t really matter if I’m older now, with a smaller nest egg as a result.

As I’m much richer for the growing appreciation I have for the years left.

And I don’t need much besides my own health.

When I was young, my life was never more efficient than when I lived in a small studio apartment.

Maybe it would be again, with a library, grocer and a community center where I can volunteer after my senior dogs have passed over the rainbow bridge.

I’d also want a lake nearby as my muse, with ample acres of parkland to travel.

Along with one sturdy mountain bike and a good pair of snowshoes.

Because in the end this second act is simply about playing more.

And smiling more as well.

Soaring in flight

After a decade of caregiving, I’m now focusing on self care and my own plans for the future. But that focus brings with it more questions than answers.

Such as where will I live?

What do I need to survive?

Can I return to the freedom and transcendence of my twenties?

And is that realistic?

What I do know for sure is I’m often overthinking my decisions, which only leads to over stressing.

So with the chirping chickadees beckoning me out into the sunshine, I’m confident exercise is the right path for me this day.

I head to a nearby park reserve.

Snowshoeing down the canal, I hang a right past two smiling teens in plaid shorts basking in 40 degree temps.

To my left as I enter the lake, I dodge holes left by ice fishermen long gone. Though soon I spot new ones being aggressively augured by ice fisherwomen behind a rusting Chevy truck.

I move on.

My final destination is the simple yet sturdy home of a neighbor.

One I’ve never met, though I know this neighbor’s out of town.

Most likely she’s in Florida, as are many Minnesotans this time of year.

We call them ‘snowbirds’ here in the midwest.

As I get closer, I see this snowbird’s home rests atop the tallest tree on the shoreline.

She’s one very lucky bald eagle.

This elegant bird of strength will be soaring back in March to her familiar nest to lay this year’s eggs.

A smart female, I’m thinking.

Nomadic, yet a bird who knows just what she wants and needs to stay centered.

Flying with grace on her return flight to Minnesota, she’ll settle in again to simplicity and beauty.

Maybe there is a lesson for me woven right into her special nest.

I look up and smile at this simply constructed home of strength.

Once the ice melts I’ll be kayaking over again to welcome the bird back home, as well as to thank her.

In the meantime, I’ll return home to work on simplifying my own nest.